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Apr - Sep 2006 Whooping Crane Recovery Newsletter

Apr - Sep 2006 Whooping Crane Recovery Newsletter

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Published by: North American Crane Working Group on Jul 24, 2010
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April – September, 2006
 by Tom StehnU. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)Whooping Crane Coordinator(361) 286-3559, Ext. 221Tom_Stehn@fws.gov
 The number of whooping cranes in North America reached 500 for presumably the firsttime in over 100 years! However, one captive juvenile died from metal ingestion in thefall to drop the total to 499. Once the cranes arrive at Aransas and are counted, totalnumbers should be above 500.It has been a record production year for all three whooping crane populations in the wild(47 in Canada, 4 in Florida and 2 in Wisconsin). In addition, the captive flocks produced36 chicks that will be reintroduced back into the eastern migratory population (n=23) orheld back in captivity for breeding because of their valuable genetics (n=11). Twocaptive chicks that developed leg problems will be placed in captivity on display at theJacksonville Zoo in Florida. In Wisconsin, the 2 chicks are the first wild hatchlings in themid-west in over 100 years! The eastern migratory population of whooping cranesshould reach 86 wild birds in its 6th year of the reintroduction.Dr. Jane Goodall visits Operation Migration at its camp on the Necedah National WildlifeRefuge to see the whooping cranes. Recovery Team member Dr. George Archibaldreceives the Indianapolis Heroes of Animal Conservation award.
 The threat of land development on the wintering grounds has become imminent withconstruction expected to start this fall on a 776-house canal lot subdivision on lands thatwhooping cranes occasionally used. Land development for people on the Texas coast isgrowing exponentially and threatens the cranes.Budget shortfalls exist for both private and government operations in whooping cranerecovery. Programs such as flying the cranes behind ultralight aircraft on migration,shipping eggs between captive facilities for reintroduction programs, paying for genetictesting for paternities of captive chicks, and census and monitoring flights for theAransas-Wood Buffalo and Eastern Migratory populations have created a financial
squeeze felt by all partners. However, substantial progress continues to be made bymultiple recovery partners.
Spring Migration, 2006
The mortality of 6 whooping cranes at Aransas during the 2005-06 winter left 214 in theflock at the start of the spring migration. An estimated 163 cranes (76% of the flock)initiated migration from Aransas between March 29 and April 12th. In the first week of April, the only reports received of whooping cranes in migration were seven cranes onthe Platte River (2 singles, a pair, and a family). One color-banded family made the tripfrom Aransas to Nebraska in four days and, (after a three-day rest), from there to centralSouth Dakota in one day. The single crane on the Platte River from March 11 to April 1was believed to have been the subadult crane that wintered with sandhills in extremesouth Texas and has never been to Aransas. By mid-April, sighting reports of whoopingcranes had been received from as far north as North Dakota. Martha Tacha of USFWS-Endangered Species in Grand Island, Nebraska recorded 24 total confirmed migrationsightings in spring, 2006 between March 11 and June 15. Sightings were located inNorth Dakota (9), South Dakota (3), Nebraska (9), Kansas (1), Oklahoma (1) andMinnesota (1). The sighting of 2 adults on June 15 occurred in Minnesota about 60 milesnorth of Duluth, east of the usual migration corridor. Three whooping cranes remained atAransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) during the summer.On April 12th at Aransas, one chick was observed all by itself on its parents’ territory onSan Jose Island. Whooping crane juveniles normally separate from their parents eithershortly after arrival on the nesting grounds, en route in the northern parts of themigration, or occasionally separate at Aransas. Presumably the parents started themigration and the juvenile had no idea what was going on or perhaps just wasn’t quiteready to migrate, so it stayed behind. The juvenile migrated later on and presumablyreturned to the Canadian nesting grounds. It probably showed up on its parent’s nestingterritory, but would have been driven off by the parents who will not tolerate last year’schick.
Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada
 Production surveys on the nesting grounds carried out June 13-17 in a Partanavia twin-engine aircraft piloted by Jim Bredy, USFWS-Region II documented a record hatch of 76chicks from the record 62 nests found by Brian Johns and Lea Craig-Moore of theCanadian Wildlife Service in May. Previous highs were 66 chicks hatched and 61 nestsfound a few years ago. Fifty-two of the 62 nests (84%) produced one or more chicks.The 76 chicks included 24 sets of twins. The record chick production in 2006 resultedfrom both high productivity and a large number of nests. An estimated 9 known adultpairs including two single adults failed to nest but were present on their territories,comparable to the 7 pairs that failed to nest in 2005. Thus, there are an estimated 71breeding pairs in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population. Water conditions on the nesting
grounds looked slightly above average and the weather was good throughout most of June, so biologists were optimistic that survival of the chicks would be above average. Iwant to thank the Refuge and Endangered Species divisions of USFWS and the CanadianWildlife Service for funding the June production surveys and acknowledge thetremendous skill of Pilot Jim Bredy and Canadian Whooping Crane Coordinator BrianJohns for his knowledge of the nesting pairs in the virtual maize of small ponds thatcharacterize the nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park.The good news from the nesting grounds continued into the summer. In mid-August,Brian and Lea found a record for August of 47 young at fledging age, including 7 sets of twins. Previously, the highest number of chicks found in August had been 39. TheAugust aerial surveys were conducted when the juveniles are close to fledging. Survivalof fledged chicks is usually quite good, although losses of chicks from twin families stillseems to happen frequently. As many as 40 juveniles may make it to Aransas this fall. If adult mortality is about average, there should be 230+ whooping cranes in the flock in the2006-07 winter, surpassing the record high of 220 present in the 2005-06 winter. Thisincrease of the population is anticipated since it is in the growth portion of the 10-yearpopulation cycle that has occurred during the middle of every decade. However, I hadalso predicted the population would reach 230 last winter, but the higher than averageloss of 25 adult birds between spring and fall, 2005 had kept the population from asizable increase.
Platte River, Nebraska
 The Environmental Impact Statement for the Platte River Recovery ImplementationProgram (Program) was issued jointly by the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) andBureau of Reclamation in May, 2006. The Service analyzed the program developed bythe Governance Committee and issued a biological opinion in June outlining the expectedimpacts for the first 13 years of the program. The Service concluded that the proposedProgram would not likely jeopardize the continued existence of the four target species(whooping crane, interior least tern, Northern Great Plains population of the pipingplover and pallid sturgeon), or other listed species in the central and lower reaches of thePlatte River. On September 27, Secretary of the Interior Kempthorne signed the Recordof Decision to participate in the Program. However, the Governors of Nebraska,Colorado and Wyoming also need to sign the Program agreement to implement theProgram, pending Federal and State appropriation of funds.
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
 Three whooping cranes did not migrate and remained all summer on the south half of theAransas National Wildlife Refuge. The three included the 2004 Lobstick juvenile thatwas injured in spring 2005 and has never migrated north. All three cranes look fine, but Ialways worry that the failure to migrate is an indication of a health problem. TheLobstick bird was solitary at the beginning of the summer but then joined the other two.

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